I wake up on Day 3 of this Chicago trip and get to brewing some coffee when I realize that something is off about my cup of Joe. It doesn’t taste like beer. With a tongue like sandpaper and a thin veil of fog over my morning I decide that maybe at this afternoon’s White Sox game I will go easy on the beer to start the day. As a pair of Montrealers who miss their Expos more than their kids on these road trips there isn’t much that’s more enjoyable than taking in a ball game. Both of us are less than top shape today so we sluggishly make it to Corporate Sponsor Park just before kickoff. A couple of ball park dogs go down fast with some soda and the fog lifts. Time to hit the beer stand. Go easy on the beer I said. But in America when you go to a ball park you get a titilating amount of microbrew beers to choose from. They must have 30 here. Yep. 30 at least. Just watch me go easy on the beer like a fox. A few Daisy Cutters (sexy IPA) and I’m back in the groove baby! Said groove was important to get into. Tonight we hit the most anticipated restaurant of the trip: Publican.
There are a plethora of reasons to be excited about tonight’s meal. 1) It’s the same executive chef as Blackbird (where our minds were thoroughly blown); Paul Kahan. 2) People across the country are talking about how good this place is. It’s popping up on everyone’s must go to list. 3) Iron Chef Michael Symon cites this as his favorite dining spot in all of Chicago. That one right there is one hell of a claim to make when you’re talking about a city with such a rich, vast, redonkulous culinary scene. So, after the game we head back to Wrigleyville, where we’re staying, and since it’s Sunday we want to hit up a sports bar and take in a bit of football. Lucky for us there are literally, I counted so don’t dispute this, 4.7 billion bars in a 6 block radius so we’ve got many to choose from. A few Goose Islands later and a few chicken wings later we start to wonder if the 3 Floyds beers in our fridge are starting to miss us. Best head back to reassure them, and by reassure I mean crack them open and destroy them. My sexiness factor is now maxed out so it’s time to head out. It is at this moment that Pete feels that he needs to talk to me. Here’s how our conversation went:
Pete: You aren’t wearing pants.
Pete: You gonna put on pants?
Pete: Christ man, put on pants.
Me: You are ashamed of me aren’t you?
Pete: Yes, but it has nothing to do with your pantlessness.
Reluctantly pantsed we get to Publican and we both like the look of the place. Set up much like a chique cafeteria to accomodate their theme of communal, family style dining, Publican has a laid back and relaxed feel to it. We’ve both heard of their legendary beer selection here and I must say the beer menu does not disappoint. This is a plate sharing place so we’ll probably end up with 5 or 6 dishes so beer pairings here should be a treat. We get warmed up with a nice one-off house lambic beer brewed in collaboration with Brouwerji Lindemans. We’re going over the food choices with our server and it looks like 5 plates will be good for us. She suggests this crazy sounding ham dish that is smoked on hay which sounds really good but it is listed by price per pound. That leads me to believe that this would be one giant slab of meat. We’re only 2 so I don’t think I could shove that much meat into my body. Don’t let my giant booty fool you, I’m not a Kardashian after all. We place our order and it’s explained to us that dishes come out as they are ready. I take this to mean that the experience will be something like last night was at Girl and the Goat where they’ll make a judgement call on the order in which plates will come out to the table. I was wrong.
Out first is our charcuterie plate with about 6 or 7 selections of cured meats and a zingy little grilled sausage. That dish has some solid cured meats, which is good cause liquid cured meats are the worst. The sausage stands out as the clear star of the plate for me. We’re nowhere near being done with this when out comes our heirloom tomato salad. Ok, table is now a bit cramped but we can make this work. Tomato salad should work fine with the meats anyway. We also realize now that we haven’t had the chance to ask about pairing any of the dishes with beer. While having fresh, high quality tomatoes is always great this dish is good but doesn’t compare to the similar salad I had at Blackbird a few nights ago. No time to talk about that though cause here comes the third plate. We do manage to get a beer order in for a Belgian Dubbel beer. Hopefully it will work well with the next 3 dishes.
Grilled tuna with a turnip green puree and toasted pumpkin seeds arrives and looks great. The pureed turnip greens works like a pesto here and compliments the fish well. The pumpkin seeds here in place of pine nuts gives this a nice zazz factor. This beer is bloody fantastic too. But don’t look now! Here comes another plate! Boudin blanc shows up with pickled bitter ramps and roasted potatoes and turnip. I’m not done with this fish yet and I don’t want to move on to the sausage plate because the joy I will feel eating this tuna will be greatly lessened if it cools off too much. Ever the trooper I get done with the fish and move on to the boudin. I am in the midst of serving myself some of this plate and guess what? No, that’s a terrible guess. Guess again. Correct! The 5th dish shows up! I’m now a full plate behind and starting to get thoroughly annoyed by this pace. Usain Bolt don’t even go this fast. Pete was more pumped than anyone to try this place as he’s had his eye on it for two years now. When I gently mention my displeasure he lets out a low, angry grumble. Ok, so it isn’t just me. He isn’t a fan of this pace either.
The sausage was pretty good but the greens on here are intensely bitter. So much so that I can’t take more than a bite or two of them. When something is too bitter for a Ukrainian to eat you got problems. A fair amount of the potatoes were quite undercooked too. I mentioned this to our server and she apologized but then asked if I would like more of them. While the service wasn’t bad here I did find that to be a strange way to make up for a plate I didn’t like. Meanwhile, dish number 5 is just sitting there cooling off. Good thing it was the plate I was most looking forward to. The lobster pasta dish with chorizo and mussels was fine if not a little cold at this point which was disappointing. Honestly, it could have been amazing and I still wouldn’t be too thrilled. My mood was now officially soured. I didn’t really see or taste much lobster in this plate either. I make fresh pasta at home and don’t really feel like this is something I could not have produced on my own.
Pete, perhaps hoping to save his night, decided to get dessert. I was not in the mood for any whatsoever but since I am sitting here with him I figured I may as well get an espresso. They don’t make espresso. They’ve only got French press coffee. I’m a big fan of that type of coffee too so I order one. Well, I thought I ordered one. I was brought a giant pot of it which contained at least 6 cups of Joe. I drink me some coffee with the best of them but that is too much for one dude to drink. Pete didn’t want any so I did my best and downed 3 cups. Getting a massive pot of coffee isn’t really something much to complain about but when it’s 6$ (I saw it only after on the bill) maybe they should rethink how to handle a situation where only 1 dude at the table wants a coffee. SonowontopofbeingannoyedbyhowthisnighthasgoneIamflyinghighoffaheavydoseofcaffeineandIamreadytobounceofthewallshereman!!
I’m at a loss as to how to explain how two nights at two spots run by the same dude can end so differently. We walked into Blackbird and were sure that this was going to be a La Di Da Shee Shee Fru Fru Pu Pu joint. We ended up having a blast and a meal neither of us will soon forget. Then we walk in to Publican and it felt like this was going to be a mind blowing night in a perfectly laid back, low key atmosphere and the only way I could have felt more rushed is if they put all 5 dishes in a blender and served it in a to go cup. If you don’t know my site well you may just think that I am a grumpy bastard looking for excuses not to like a place but if you know the history of this site you’ll know that I prefer to not write bad reviews. I’ve been to a few spots where things didn’t go well and I just chose not to write about it. But hey, we drove from Montreal to eat at this place. This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip. I’ve only been to Publican this one time so maybe it was just an epically off night. Maybe my expectations were skewed. Maybe if we were a big group the night might have worked out better since that seems to be what the set up caters to. I can’t be that crazy though cause Pete felt the same way. Our night before at The Goat, which runs on a plate sharing theme too, didn’t go like this. They stagger your order so that you can enjoy, savor, maybe even thoroughly chew your food before the next dish is presented. Let me sum it up like this: from the moment we sat down, ordered beer, went over the menu, placed our order, ate 5 courses, had dessert and coffee, and then had the bill presented to us a grand total of 40 minutes had passed. No joke. The quality of the night at Blackbird suggests that this place deserves another shot but I don’t know how often I will be able to make it out to Chicago and it would really burn my britches to have this type of experience again on vacation. It would take the unbridled beer passion of a Captain Beerism, because the beer list is unparalleled, to convince me to go again.
We had wanted to do some damage at renowned blues bar, Kingston Mines, but we’re too dejected so we hop in a cab and head back to the apartment. I said goodbye to my pants with a vengeance and took solace in a few 3 Floyds. Each of the Floyds are always there for me.